Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Damien Leone
Writer: Damien Leone
Producer: Jesse Baget
Stars: Katie Maguire, Catherine Callahan, Marie Maser, Kayla Lian, Sydney Freihofer, Cole Mathewson, Brandon Despain, Michael Chmiel, Mike Giannelli
A VHS videocassette found in a trick or treat bag contains three tales of terror linked together by a murderous clown.
Nestled amidst the fun size Milky Way bars, rolls of Smarties, and individually wrapped pieces of Dubble Bubble, trick or treat sacks have always contained a fear or two. Urban legends have had parents afraid of injected poisons and hidden razor blades. Kids have been afraid they might get stuck with a box of Sun-Maid raisins or an apple. Now, Art the Clown wants everyone to be wary of unmarked VHS videocassettes that might be lurking at the bottom of that bag beneath a pile of Tootsie Rolls and Charms Blow Pops.
In a scene more than just a little bit reminiscent of John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” Sarah spends her Halloween evening babysitting Tommy, er, Timmy and his sister Tia. Timmy dumps his candy on the floor to revel in this year’s haul, and finds a VHS tape mixed in with his goodies. If “The Ring” has taught us anything, it is that playing videotapes of an unknown origin cannot possibly be a good idea. But tell a child that he cannot do something and he only wants to do it more. After some typical babysitter hemming and hawing, Sarah relents and the trio sets down to see what the video contains. Good thing Timmy and Tia’s parents happen to have a VCR hooked up to their flat screen.
Writer/director Damien Leone has taken his 2008 short film “The 9th Circle,” his 2011 short “Terrifier,” sandwiched a new segment in between, and given everything the wraparound described above to create “All Hallows’ Eve.” Halloween is truly a fitting theme as Leone’s horror anthology mimics a trick or treat bag loaded with many goodies, but also packed with a few handfuls of stale treats that can go right into the rubbish.
“All Hallows’ Eve” is clearly a low budget independent movie, although it is also clear that every penny of that budget is right up there on the screen. Something rare about the production is that it is packed with countless nods to other films and genre influences, yet they actually play as fitting homage rather than misplaced plagiarism.
Shadows of John Carpenter fall everywhere over “All Hallows’ Eve,” whether it is in the form of Dean Cundey hued lighting or the synthesizer heavy soundtrack. A holiday jingle on the radio apes the familiar Silver Shamrock incarnation of “London Bridge.” Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery” inspires the use of a painting in one segment while “Tales from the Darkside” takes a tip of the hat from the film’s overall throwback tone. “All Hallows’ Eve” lifts liberally from myriad predecessors, but Leone makes the cut-and-paste elements work in unison to suit his anthology’s mood.
Where these borrowed techniques do not fit so well are in sequences where an emphasis on style relies too heavily on the suspension of disbelief. The final story in the core trilogy uses grindhouse film scratches for a 1970’s feel that is right in line with the bloody climax. Yet that “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” vibe shatters like fragile glass when the lead character whips out a cell phone and snaps the story into the present day. It was already a stretch that the boy in the wraparound even recognized a VHS tape, much less had a readily available way to watch it. “All Hallows’ Eve” cannot seem to make its style and its stories work in tandem when the settings clash with the desire to look cool.
Running only 80 minutes without credits, the three segments plus the wraparound story are, oddly enough, surprisingly too long. The segments range in setup from monster rally satanic kidnapping to alien home invasion to car chase carnage. Diverse as those ideas sound, each one molts its uniqueness and degrades into a simple cat and mouse between a Final Girl and an evil pursuer. There is an illusion of getting four individual stories, but thematically they are all identical. Realizing that what the package actually offers is four overlong chases makes even 80 minutes feel like a scam.
At least the gore and the creature effects keep things modestly entertaining, although they also range from pretty poor to pretty on point. The space alien is downright embarrassing. However, “All Hallows’ Eve” is one of the first efforts to successfully produce an evil clown that rivals the iconic look of Pennywise. Many horror films have tried and failed. Art the Clown works because he does not try so hard to be deliberately eerie. His always silent miming and always smiling demeanor adds an inherent Gacy-esque creepiness beneath the makeup. Art the Clown is the stuff of nightmares.
Had the stories offered something more than just four variations on women in peril, and had the acting been less uneven, “All Hallows’ Eve” would be easier to recommend. At a minimum, the anthology might have been better served if each segment trimmed out the redundant running in terror sequences and slipped in another short to offset the time difference. “All Hallows’ Eve” is not the type of middling distraction that one regrets spending time with, but it is the sort of experience that leaves the viewer with a stomach rumbling for something more satisfying.
Review Score: 65